The Oxford Handbook of British Philosophy in the Seventeenth Century, Review by Timothy Yenter

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

2014.06.32 View this Review Online   View Other NDPR Reviews

Peter R. Anstey (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of British Philosophy in the Seventeenth Century, Oxford University Press, 2013, 651pp., $150.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780199549993.

Reviewed by Timothy Yenter, University of Mississippi

This volume continues the high level of scholarship expected of the Oxford Handbooks. The articles are without exception careful, detailed, and (both on controversial and non-controversial points) well supported. The largest drawback is the selection of topics covered, a side effect of the emphasis on natural philosophy.

Three of the most pressing issues facing a person considering purchasing a handbook such as this are (a) how well it orients the reader to philosophy as it was done in the period, (b) how well it orients the reader to the current scholarship, and (c) whether the individual articles lean toward surveying important interpretive positions or toward arguing for a particular interpretation, historical narrative, or reconstruction of an argument or position. My review will focus primarily on these three issues. I will begin with the first two questions and then use the third to frame the discussion of the individual essays, with more attention given to the articles that push the secondary literature forward.

As editor Peter Anstey describes in his introduction, the volume has two goals: that it provide a “comprehensive overview of the current issues that are informing research in the field” and that it not just offer “a review of the latest research in the subject” but also, “carry the debate forward in the interpretation of leading philosophical texts and arguments” (1). Three new developments that Anstey uses to shape the volume include “a wider appreciation of the different and somewhat fluid nature of the disciplinary boundaries that prevailed in the  century” (within philosophy and between philosophy and other disciplines) (2), “heightened historiographical awareness” (this includes down-playing the rationalist-empiricist distinction and up-playing the experimental-speculative distinction) (3), and “a reassessment of the philosophical canon” (contextualization can lead us to realize a work is less impactful than previously thought, and can help us recognize those whose work has been improperly ignored) (3). Anstey notes philosophy of language and (some parts of) philosophy of religion receive less attention than would be ideal. Continue reading “The Oxford Handbook of British Philosophy in the Seventeenth Century, Review by Timothy Yenter”

International Society for Neoplatonic Studies Annual Conference


The 12th Annual Conference of the International Society for Neoplatonic Studies hosted and sponsored by the Philosophy Centre of the University of Lisbon, to be held at the Faculty of Letters of the University of Lisbon (Portugal) on June 16-21, 2014 will include a panel on the Cambridge Platonists:

The Cambridge Platonists had a major influence on modern thought, between the first major reception of Descartes and European Romanticism. They attempted to negotiate the claims, on the one hand, of the inherited Hellenic–Christian synthesis of antiquity and, on the other hand, the startling new mechanical vision of the universe presented by Galilean-Cartesian science. In the period between Descartes and Newton, they were fully engaged with the major developments of contemporary philosophy and science. Trenchant critics of leading seventeenth- century philosophers, such as Descartes, Hobbes and Spinoza, they developed a distinctive conception of nature as an antidote to the early modern mechanical philosophy. Their contribution to their moral philosophy is a major source for modern secular ethical theory and ideas of tolerance. Their legacy to modern thought includes central concepts, such as Monotheism, Materialism, Self-Consciousness. Among their fold we find some of the first women writers of philosophy, including Anne Conway, Mary Astell and Damaris Cudworth. Their influence in Europe was sustained well into the late eighteenth-century. Through its take-up by, among others, Lord Shaftesbury their moral philosophy was mediated to the Scottish Enlightenment. They influenced the development of the so-called ‘hylozoic’ atheism by Diderot, and of German Naturphilosophie, which formed such a core element in European Romanticism. They contributed most notably to the Greek-Platonic revival in Germany of the 1760’s which affected such luminaries as Herder and Goethe.

Natalia Strok, Universidad de Buenos Aires and Universidad de La Plata
‘Cambridge Platonists and Eriugena’

Danielle Follett, Univ. de Franche-Comté
‘The Cambridge Platonists and Ralph Waldo Emerson’

Douglas Hedley, Cambridge University
‘The Cambridge Platonists and Modern Aesthetics’

Additional Panels.

Platonic Commentaries in the Renaissance

The Cambridge Platonist Research Group

A conference on the contents and the role of the Platonic commentary tradition in the Renaissance.

Date: Weds 11th June 2014

Place: Birkbeck University of London

Organized by Stephen Clucas and John Sellars

Speakers: Michael Allen, Anna Corrias, Dilwyn Knox, Jacomien Prins, Valery Rees.

For more information see

The event is free and open to all.
To book a place please email either or

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